Monster; regarding the translation of this word in most Japanese web novels

“…breath of the legendary suu’rin, an being that lived underground…”
“…breath of the suu’rin, an underground monster…”
The latter is the literal, the former is what I went with. To sum up the problem, basically in Japanese you have a lot of words that are only suitable as being expressed by the English word “monster”.
This time the word used is
怪物 (kaibutsu) in other words, a strange or mystical creature. It’s not the same ‘monster’ as the one used in RPGs 魔物 (mamono). Neither is it the same ‘monster’ used in “B-, Bakana! Kono bakemono!” which would be 化け物(bakemono).

I think I should make a new post to complain about this.

This was something I wrote at the end of the 4th chapter of The Bathroom Goddess.

Basically, the problem with a lot of web novel translations is that in web novels, things tend to be based around RPGs. Meaning you have stuff like 魔族(mazoku; demon) and 魔物(mamono; monster). Literally translating them, it’s “demon/magic tribe/race”, and “demon/magic creature” respectively.

The whole, ‘is this 魔 meant to represent magic or demon here, or is it both?’ thing is a whole other issue for the mazoku thing which I won’t get into.

What I will get into is the problem with translating 魔物 as monster. By no means would I translate it as anything else, because to the Japanese WN reader, they’re going to immediately associate this term with the monsters in RPGs.

That’s why we can’t translate it as ‘fiend’ or ‘demon’ or anything like that. I know some people DO translate it as ‘demon’ like the Slime Datta Ken translators, but I believe that you guys are doing it wrong… unless the JRPG localisation in your country happens to use ‘demon’ for everything.

When you translate, as much as possible, you’re trying to convey the impression and nuance that a reader of the original text would get.
If the character is exclaiming something in Engrish and trying to be funny, you might translate it as Japanese like SUGOI or NANI!?.
If the character is speaking Engrish all the time, and just throwing it into his words because that’s just how he speaks, perhaps an American might translate it as Spanish, since that’s the most popular second language there.
If the character is speaking Engrish and trying to sound fancy, it might be appropriate to translate it into French there, because that’s what we English-speakers do when we try and sound cultured.

And for RPG-esque fantasy web novels, the thing that hits Japanese readers when they see 魔物 is basically the monsters in RPGs. That’s why we can’t translate ‘mamono’ as anything but monster.

But there’s another common term translated as monster; 化け物(bakemono).

This one is the ‘monster’ that you use for something terrifying or incomprehensible. It’s the one that people scream after going ‘B-, BAKA NA!’ at the terribly powerful protagonist. The monstrously powerful protagonist.

So sometimes you might get somebody exclaiming ‘YOU GODDAM MONSTER!’ in a web novel, but I’d like to have people keep in mind that in instances like these, there’s a completely distinct separation between the RPG monsters that prowl the fields, and the ‘true monsters’ that scare the shit out of the baddies and make them scream ‘B- BAKA NA!’.

So yeah~ Sorry if this was a bit long. Even if both are translated as monsters, please note that in the original text, they aren’t just comparing the person/thing to the common RPG monsters; they’re basically calling them true horrors.

53 thoughts on “Monster; regarding the translation of this word in most Japanese web novels”

  1. Thanks for the enlightenment. The Esteemed 5th Holy Sheeprabbit, Estelion Sharlulu Asheel Vinchance Celenalia di ef Falufiluu’Luufilaafee (The 35th)-sama.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, they either scream out incomprehensible phrases or run away screaming like a little girl.

      I mean, remember when a certain guild master hint at his future of suffering wrath of an evil god?

      I think some of these people might have the same thought in mind:
      If they call her with anyone but THE term appropriate, she might take insults and punish them for it.
      (although I don’t think the person herself think too much on that, if anything she’d prefers not being called with any special title)


  2. I remember “mamono” being used in “Konjiki no Gash!!” as demonic race. For some reason it was translated as “mamodo”.


  3. You really did a post about it…. Well, thanks? It was interesting at least, and while I had the gut feeling that “mamono” and “bakemono” were indeed different, now I’m sure. Though Kaibutsu was buried somewhere deep in my brain…


  4. So, Mamono is the RPG-esque “monster”, but Bakemono is sort of a “true” monster, but how would you delineate the two in a translation? What conveys that true horrific feel without being verbose or awkward to phrase? Or is it just a matter of finding the word or words based on the situation.


  5. A friend of mine had similar problems when translating elf, dwarf, hobbit, fairy and leprechaun into Indonesian, they all translate into ‘peri’. He usually went and use the original words since they are well known and only used the word ‘peri’ for fairy.
    I appreciate what you and the other translators do Fluffy.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. From what I heard they used the original names for the races. Indonesian is a constructed language not a natural one, it was made from a combination of several languages, so absorbing foreign words is nothing new. I won’t be surprised if elf, dwarf, etc has become part of the vocabulary .

        Liked by 1 person

      2. What do you mean with “constructed” Reaper Phoenix? English is also made up by a combination of several diffrent languages, but it still evolved naturally from people with diffrent languages living in the same area.


  6. Maybe rpg “monsters” should be considered to be called “mobs”?, or the translator could at least make a note “monster; (mmo)rpg mobs”.

    When it comes to westerners I’d guess that most use the term “mobs”, at least in mmorpgs, however it might be different for people that are all ready familiar with LN/manga/anime.
    I mean I can’t remember the last time someone told me they were grinding “monsters” while grinding “mobs” is an every day occurrence…

    Also saves the trouble of confusing one term of monster for another.


    1. That’s even worse. Mobs don’t carry the meaning of the word monster at all.

      Just to check if I got the basics right, so we are having a linguistic coincidence between “monster” and “monstrous”?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oooo thanks for the lesson ani-ue!!! “Bakemono” definitely has more of a hatred/fear/disgust/repulsion vibe coming off of it for me…

    I truly appreciate your diligence!!!!


  8. In my opinion, the closest English word would be “freak”. Unfortunately, unlike bakemono in Japanese, freak is much infrequently used.


      1. Well I did think about monster but in an attempt to use seperate English words for bake and mamono, I prefer it that way. IMO monster could mean bakemono and mamono, etc I’d prefer freak as both freak and bake could be used in humans. However, mamono can’t really be used in humans.
        It’s just my personal preference I guess hehe


  9. Soo… How you deal with words also meaning “monster”?, but, well you know… “kaiju” 怪獣 for example?


      1. Hmm… translate that into chinese and you get “guai-wu”, which I’d use “creature” as a translation. Though if you were literal, it translates into “strange object”, but that loses the meaning.

        You remember Gremlins? Moguai or something like that? “Magical Ghost” is the literal translation, but the meaning is “Demon”.


      2. Don’t think there is a name for those in Chinese, the Chinese didn’t go in to the “big monster” thing like the Japanese did. No Chinese “Ultraman/Guy in latex suit” out to fight other guys in latex suits.

        Interesting how Godzilla and Ultraman founded a whole new line of monsters, the XL kind.


    1. I don’t think it ever occurred to them to have a specific term for it.

      A.k.a they just chucked it into a generic “monster” catagory. Most Chinese monsters tend towards human size, like vampires/zombies and politicians.

      I’m not that fond of the Chinese themselves either. You seen the recent MH370 circus? Idiots think staging protests will let the plane be found faster. If protests solved your problems faster, the US economy would have been cured post-“Occupy” movement.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s interesting that the Japanese have so many different words for a “monster”, while English just has one. Is it a cultural thing? In Japanese culture it seems like there is a greater need to differentiate the various “types” of monsters. It’s a lot more nuanced.

    Thanks for the lesson! XP


      1. Hmm but there’s no English equivalent expressions right? Like kaiju would be giant monster, and bakemono would be OMFG UR TOO STRONK MONSTER etc?


  11. Hmmm… Mamono, Mazoku, Majin, Kaibutsu, Kaiju, Bakemono, Youkai, Youma, Akuma, Oni, O-bake, Digimon, Pokemon…

    The list goes on and on doesn’t it? Lol^^


  12. I think translating “mamono” as “fiend” as Final Fantasy X and so many other Square Enix games do is okay though? Not to mention Shin Megami Tensei where it has always been translated “demon.”


    1. Also, replying more specifically to your comment, I don’t know about FFX because frankly I haven’t played it. I’m not an FF fan.

      I am a sort of casual Shin Megami Tensei fan though, and used to play IMAGINE. The ‘demons’ in SMT are not 魔物(mamono) but 悪魔(akuma). Akuma is basically devil or devils, which is why it’s appropriate to use ‘demon’ as a catch-all for them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, thank you! I had assumed that the word was the same, but it seems they used the more specific term in SMT. Makes sense because the plot of those games is all about demons specifically.


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